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FIRST-PERSON: Stretch it out

DALLAS (BP)–You’ve listened to your doctor, you’ve read all the articles, and now you’ve made the commitment to make exercise a regular part of your life. Great! Your well-rounded exercise plan should include both aerobic exercise to improve your cardiovascular endurance and weight training to build strength. But are you missing something?

If stretching isn’t a part of your routine, you’re missing out on an important element. Stretching, also known as flexibility training, provides benefits such as:

— Increasing your flexibility.

— Giving your joints better range of motion.

— Improving balance and coordination, making you less susceptible to falls.

— Relieving stress by relaxing tight muscles.

— Reducing your risk of injury while exercising or participating in sports.

Stretching prepares your muscles for exercise, but if you don’t do it properly, it can actually lead to muscle strain. It’s important to remember:

— Warm up before you stretch. Walk while moving your arms or do a low-intensity exercise for five to seven minutes first.

— Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.

— Breathe deeply through each stretch.

— Stretch again after your workout while your muscles are warmest.

— Don’t bounce. Bouncing can cause your muscles to tear.

— Don’t push to the point of pain. You should feel only mild tension or a gentle tug.

— Don’t tense up your jaw, shoulders or other body parts. Relax your whole body for best results.

Concentrate on stretching all the muscle groups you will be using or have used in your workout. But don’t stop there. If you have the time, focus a few minutes on each of the major muscle groups: calves, thighs, hips, back, neck and shoulders. Push a little further with each stretch, but never to the point of pain. On days you don’t work out, try stretching in a warm bath or shower while your muscles are relaxed and warm.

Stretching is an exercise that can be done anywhere, even at the office. You don’t need any equipment or a special place to go. Slow, relaxed stretching every day makes your muscles more flexible, reduces stress — and it feels great!
Tamara Quintana is a graduate of All Saints Episcopal Hospital School of Vocational Nursing and the director of the employee wellness program for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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  • Tamara Quintana